Peanuts, parents and protests

I’ve tried on occasion to post comments to Gawker websites but it never seems to work–I can’t figure out what magical touch I’m lacking. I’ve registered for individual sites to have accounts, etc. but nada…which is why I usually just end up writing blog entries as response.

So, today’s is…again, on peanut allergies. There’s a story out of Florida about a 6 year old whose peanut allergy is so severe and so life-threatening that it’s considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Because it’s a disability her school is obligated to make accommodations for her, and parents of the other children in her class are protesting those accommodations which are:  no peanuts and peanut products. Parents of the child’s classmates have protested, suggesting that if the child is in this much danger for her life that she be home-schooled.

Jezebel has posted a link to various articles about this issue and their own writer’s attitude is essentially:  wow, these parents are assholes for being inconsiderate to a disabled kid. Most of the comments are:  wow, these parents are assholes for being inconsiderate to a disabled kid. After all–all that’s involved is not bringing peanut products to school and making sure children wash their hands.

Yeah. That’s all it means…

I’ve written about this issue before but here I go again…

In Ontario, there is a law (Sabrina’s Law) that forbids peanuts or peanut products in schools. Sounds simple right? After all, how hard can it be to not send your child to school with peanuts?

Well, consider this:

Today at work, as you’re talking to a colleague, try to remember what you ate the last time you wore any of the clothes or jewellery on your body. Did you touch your hair at all today? Did you do it after you ate something? Try to think what you ate when you last touched your coffee cup. Did you wash your hands after you ate or drank something? And, if you made any level of physical contact with another person–say pushed up against someone in an elevator–do you know if that person had any peanut products?

Try to remember every location where you’ve put your purse/bag/backpack–what foods might it have come into contact with? Think about your shoes–are you positive you haven’t dropped anything on them or touched them with your hands after you touched a peanut product? What about your pens and every single thing on your desk? Could you safely hand a phone to a colleague and be positive that there is no way that there is the slightest trace of a peanut product on it? And of course–do you actually know what is considered a peanut product?

Next time you’re in the grocery store, start reading labels. Peanut AND NUT products (no matter that peanuts are not a nut, tree nuts are considered a part of the law and they are banned) hide under a lot of different names. How many of you would be aware that one of the ingredients to avoid is “hydrolyzed plant protein”? Or “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”? Most people who have not had to deal with this situation, who simply read about it in an article assume that everything will magically have the word “peanut” or “nut” in it if they are present. They do not.

Manufacturers are obligated to label the product even if the label is “trace amounts” or “may have come into contact with nut products”. If a product says anything but “peanut free” it cannot be taken to school. And, peanuts are not a tree-nut, they are legumes…as are soy beans. Most allergy specialists suggest that if you’re allergic to peanuts, you’ll be allergic to soy beans–try reading labels and seeing how often you see some form of soy. Most frozen pizzas, for example, use TVP as a cheese substitute. Because soy beans are so cheap, and easy to process into different forms, they hide in many, many food products. I’ve seen soy oil listed as an ingredient in cheap fruit punches.

The Ontario law is open to interpretation by each school’s principal. Since the law is to keep safe kids with allergies, they are obligated to ban any food that a child in their school has an anaphylactic reaction to to. At my kids’ school that now includes peanut products, and eggs. So–no tuna or egg salad sandwiches for starters. No home baking with eggs. (The school consistently sends home notes that state “as we have children in our school with peanut, nut and fish allergies” implying that fish is banned, but it is not officially. But most mothers assume that it is, and most students as well, causing many a child to refuse to eat a tuna sandwich in panic).

And realistically–there is absolutely no way to completely enforce this. The idea that “all” it requires is for kids to wash their hands? First-graders? How many studies have shown the number of adults who do not wash their hands properly throughout the day? Children–even the best-trained six year old will wipe their hands on their shirts or their pants at some point. Or they drop something off their fork onto their lap. Or while making peanut butter toast, they accidentally smear some on the counter, and another child later touches that counter.  I know mothers who are so terrified that their children might be responsible for the death of another that they either make their children change completely after eating peanut butter at home or they’ve completely forbidden it for weekday consumption. If you have young children, you know that they often go through a phase where they won’t eat meat or eggs–frequently, peanut butter is one of their main sources of protein. Also, for poorer families–it’s often their easiest source of protein for their kids. And it’s not a matter of simply making sure that the child in the class with the allergic child doesn’t have peanut butter–you have to police siblings as well. After all, what if a sibling has peanut butter, and while making a joke whacks the other child on the shoulder? Then that child goes off to school with the child with the deathly allergy and…

And, there is absolutely no way to “police” anything that doesn’t have a label. How do you know what kind of oil a parent used for baking? If the butter they used for cookies came into contact with peanuts? As you make your evening meal, look at the ingredients you’re using. Even if you know them to be individually peanut-free can you absolutely guarantee that they have had no contamination from a peanut or nut product whatsoever? No one made a peanut butter sandwich, then quickly swiped a little extra margarine with the same knife? No one, while eating peanut butter toast, decided to empty the dishwasher?

Under the law, in Ontario, teachers are trained in how to deal with children with anaphylactic allergies. One of my kids was in a class with two girls with anaphylactic allergies:  a poster for and of each girl was prominently displayed at the front of the class with a picture, a list of the allergies, and an epi-pen for each child hanging in front. Each school year began with a lecture to the children about the dangers these girls faced, and how to deal with the epi-pens if the teacher was not present. Any supply teacher who came into the classroom would also have to be taught what to do.

For the record my child who was in the classroom with the two students with anaphylactic allergies? He has severe Anxiety/OCD. To this day, he panics when he goes out into the world wondering if there is any chance that he or his clothing has had any contact with any peanut product. He will not make hand contact with anyone.  I’ve mentioned this to other moms as being an individual, unique stress that I’ve dealt with, and I’ve had them tell me that their non-anxiety disordered children have felt exactly the same way. Try and imagine being told every single day that you could be the literal death of a classmate.

By trying to set up these rules, considerable and weighty responsibility is put upon the other parents and children. Absolutely no sane individual wishes to endanger the life of another child. So, the parents have to be constantly vigilant and guard their own children from peanuts and peanut products. It’s not just NOT taking peanuts to school and washing hands.

Absolutely no one wants to see a situation where a child’s life is in danger:  but these parents in Florida know that there is no way to absolutely, irrefutably, unconditionally be able to guarantee that no trace of a peanut product will ever enter a classroom with this six year old child. And rather than assuming that they are selfish bastards looking to teach their children how to only think of themselves and how to ostracise a disabled child, perhaps consider that they are terrified of being in a situation where they and their children will be in fear for that child’s life until the end of the school year. Depending on the size of the school and the classrooms, it could very well be every single year of school. Try and imagine living with that stress every single day.

And if your answer to that is, “Imagine how the allergic child’s parents feel!”–consider that that is exactly what these parents are doing. Imagining how they would feel to send their deathly allergic child out into the world and count on everyone else to police every single thing that child comes into contact with.

They’re not selfish assholes who want to give their children peanut butter sandwiches–they’re simply afraid. Deathly afraid.


2 thoughts on “Peanuts, parents and protests

  1. I’ve touched on my own thoughts on other sites covering this-while I can empathize with all sides, but I’m surprised that while everyone is focusing on the “negative attitudes” of the parents in question, theyre using this as an example, rather than focusing on the specifics ; this is a 6 year old child-past a point, can a parent even trust someone whose logic centers arent fully formed to grasp the dire gravity of their condition? Can 26 other parents make similar judgment calls?

    While I’m amongst the vanguard saying that children are far more perceptive than are given credit for, your only option is practically to terrify a child who’s just past toddlerhood into understanding that something is WRONG. Trying to make them grasp what you touched on, that level of awareness…it’s unrealistic.

    Homeschooling them for a couple years won’t kill them (heh), and they’re still well in time to learn all the requisite social skills a slightly older age.

  2. The problem is that the parents of the child don’t want her (?) to grow up isolated–they want her to have friends and contact with the outside world. And home-schooling is not easy–someone has to stay home to do it which means not earning an income. This is not a situation with an easy solution.

    And, according to the school, because she’s been labelled as “disabled”, under the laws, the school has no say as to whether she’s a student–you cann0t discriminate against the disabled. They have to set up a situation that works for her. It’s unique though, as most accommodations for disabled students wouldn’t create any level of change or difficulty for other students.

    This is a situation I would not wish to be in…

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